According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), nearly 90% of projects are conducted by teams where everyone doesn’t share a workplace. It might be because they have teleworkers, or they may have teammates on the other side of the globe. No matter how these teams are assembled, there are three complaints they all seem to share:
- Email is the most common communication tool—and the biggest productivity suck.
- Participation on virtual meetings isn’t what leaders expect. People are “there” but don’t contribute or add value to the proceedings as much as we’d like.
- Despite (or maybe because of) all the communication tools available to remote workers, there’s no consistency to how each team member uses the tools (or doesn’t) or when they choose one tool over another. If you have one teammate who only uses email, and another who seems addicted to Instant Messaging, you know what I’m talking about.
On the surface, these seem like completely different problems. Email use—or abuse—is a mindset issue. We can decide to send emails or not, and the quality of that communication is well in our control. Participation in meetings is dependent on technology—do we have good audio connections? Are people using the tools effectively? And technology use is often dependent on whether people are trained in the use of the tools.
The fact is, for most teams, all three of these problems stem from a common source: there haven’t been honest conversations about expectations, and then people held accountable (by the team as well as the manager) for those behaviors.
Have you had a conversation recently as a team about email? How often should you check it? What is a reasonable timeframe for returning a message? Are you using your status messages to help your teammates know when and how best to work with you?
What about meetings? When people log on but don’t participate, or contribute to the discussion (and thus add value to the work), is that addressed? Meeting behavior is a performance management issue. When was the last time you actually talked about it?
And finally, why aren’t people using the tools at their disposal in a consistent manner? Has the team discussed what’s working and what isn’t? If not, why are you surprised that they’ve all developed their own individual approaches.
The root cause of each of these seemingly different problems is the same: a lack of explicit, honest and proactive conversation about what’s working and what isn’t. Just having one discussion about process and assuming it will apply for all time doesn’t work. People forget. If they aren’t coached on their behavior, they default to what’s comfortable for them, and not the team. Most importantly, things change over time. Team communication needs to be mindfully assessed, adjusted and coached.
When was the last time you had an explicit conversation with your team about how well you’re communicating? What’s working and what isn’t? What can you tweak, and what do you really need to change?
For even more resources on managing a successful project team, check out How to Create and Manage Productive Remote Project Teams here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.